Rooted 2019

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Racing Rooted Vermont was a no-brainer; the race starts and ends only seven miles down the road from my home in the hills of Vermont. So close, in fact, that I rode my bike to the starting line on race morning, stopping briefly at the village market for an extra banana. From our single-stoplight downtown I could hear music bumping in the distance as racers began to warm up around Cochran’s, a family-run, community ski hill. Only today, Richmond felt more like a gravel race Mecca than the place I’d learned to ski almost thirty years ago.

Overall Women’s Podium. Photo credit: Meg McMahon

But beyond sheer geographic logic, I knew this race would be world-class for two reasons: first, the 82-mile course winds itself through some of most picturesque valleys the Green Mountain State has to offer cyclists. Straying from the beaten path that many weekenders cling to, Rooted sampled the best of the best when it comes to back roads, featuring the scenic “Natural Turnpike,” a unique forest road closed to traffic.

Gravel GLORY. Photo credit: Meg McMahon

The second reason I knew this event would be a home run is the philosophy of the race director Laura King. Throughout the spring, word had spread quickly that the event would be the ultimate collision of Ted and Laura‘s passions: cycling, community, local food, and the spirit of gravel.

But most importantly, I knew the race would be good for my town, and I was proud to register.

I didn’t know what to expect out of my haphazard training come August 4th…

Ted and Laura kick things off at the starting line. Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

Only 10 minutes into the course riders find themselves on Wes White Hill. I’d built up this climb in my head for what it is (STEEP!) but also as key to securing a spot in the group I wanted to ride with. But once my labored breathing picked up I lost sense of where I was in the pack; so much for my plan to find a familiar wheel and cling to it. I put my head down and just rode the hill hard, but a pace that felt familiar from training rides. Nearing the top of Wes White, as the pavement transitions to dirt, I looked around the spotted one familiar face, a woman I’d met the day prior, who I recognized to be a strong rider. We exchanged “good mornings” and I committed to sticking with her through the flats, unsure if I’d be able to maintain her pace. We grouped up with others through Huntington, and I felt great about my time moving into the Class 4 sections.

Heading into the Class 4. Photo Credit: Meg McMahon

The Class 4 turned out to be a huge boost for me. From my pre-ride I knew which puddles were too deep to ride through (all of them) and that my best chance of staying on the bike would be to hang left. I also knew just how sendy I could get without completely losing control. So I took some risks where I thought the consequence was low, and boy did it pay off. I was out of the woods before I knew it and back on predictable road.

I’m really proud of how I rode the next 30 miles. I kept a sustainable pace through Natural Turnpike, down to Ripton and turning north again to Starksboro. I found a communicative and like-paced group, resisted the urge to surge past them, and preserved that energy for what I knew would be a tough finish. The group worked well together, and somewhere along this stretch we came upon my husband, who was all alone. When we pulled past him I knew I was having a good day. Two more punchy climbs and then a long descent back to Richmond, roads I’ve ridden many times. With my mind and body in a confident and well-fueled space, I separated from the group and pedaled hard to the finish.

Stunning scenery, even better company. Photo credit: Meg McMahon

Training

July turned out to be my biggest month of riding on record. I knew that simply logging some big milage would be essential for Rooted, with plenty of climbing on gravel to mimic the course. Luckily, northern Vermont has plenty of that. Additionally, living right nearby allowed for some pre-riding that really paid off, especially in those techy Class 4 sections of road. I know I gained some serious time on the women around me in these spots. I’d expected to be off my bike, but was pleasantly surprised to ride the entirety of it. I am grateful for this home court advantage because it gave me the opportunity to really see what I had in the fitness bank rather than stressing about the terrain on course.

I rode my Specialized women’s Diverge Sport which, was a fantastic bike for this course. I definitely benefitted from the Future Shock “front suspension,” which limited the rattle I felt on the class 4 sections. I rode Velocity Aileron wheels with 38c Schwalbe G-One tires. Additionally, my gearing, a 48/32 crankset with an 11-34t cassette, was essential for the short, steep climbs and capitalizing on two key flat stretches.

Just another gorgeous summer day in Vermont

Leading into the event I had a carb heavy dinner with my BMB teammates and helped myself to two servings of peach cake. On the morning of I started off with my standard steel cut oats with fruit, nuts, and maple syrup, and a chai tea. Then, I sipped UnTapped Ginger MapleAid throughout the morning, finishing one bottle before lining up. On the bike I ate an Untapped Coffee Maple shot at about mile 18, another plus a banana at about mile 35, and continued to sip water and UnTapped, being careful not to consume too much sugar. On the back end of the ride I popped some 2x sodium shot blocks and got a waffle in somewhere around mile 60 and did not eat again, except for the icepop hand-up I received from the amazing Rasputitsa Gravel folks at mile 70.

Natural, delicious and local fuel. Photo credit: Meg McMahon

I went into the day feeling ready to ride, but coming off a high-milage month for me. The gorgeous July weather made it hard to taper and rest properly leading into the day, but a wise friend reminded me that you never regret being a little over rested, while you always regret showing up tired. So I took her advice and kept it to short (20-30mi) coffee rides in week leading up to the event. I focused on sleep, nutrition, and regular foam rolling.

With my husband, Tyler, at the finish line. Photo credit: Meg McMahon

While I knew the roads exceptionally well leading into this race, there were a lot of unknowns too. Mainly, I hadn’t really raced yet this summer and I knew there would be a lot of fast women in town. Still, I hoped I would be able to finish in the top ten. I had no idea I had ridden to a podium finish when I crossed the finish line, high-fived Ted, and Laura told me I was the fourth woman. Finishing strong amid a field of incredibly accomplished riders was the push I needed to really commit to more constructive training going forward and a full racing schedule next summer including, of course, Rooted: Return to Gravel 2020.

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Rachel Cohen

I'm a cyclist, runner, skier and high school teacher; always in search of my next snack.
Running, Cycling, Mountain Biking, Ski Touring
Jericho, VT